12 January 2006

BLAIR UNDER PRESSURE OVER STORMONTGATE AFFAIR

IAIS

01/12/06 12:27 EST

British Prime Minister Tony Blair tonight faced new demands to disclose his full involvement in discussions about dropping charges against the Sinn Fein administrator-turned British agent Denis Donaldson.

Ian Paisley`s Democratic Unionists challenged the Prime Minister to issue an explanation after Britain's Solicitor General revealed he was consulted a year ago on a case which provoked uproar in Belfast.

Mr Blair and cabinet colleagues held talks in January 2005 about the charges against three men accused of a spy ring that toppled the Stormont power-sharing regime, MPs were told.

The suspects included Denis Donaldson who was outed in December as a police and MI5 agent.

Days before his 20-year career as an informer was exposed, all charges against Mr Donaldson and his co-accused were dropped. The authorities announced prosecution would not be in the public interest.

Mr Blair has since maintained he was not involved in the decision to end the criminal case.

But, Solicitor General Mike O`Brien today confirmed, however, the Prime Minister took part in earlier discussions on whether continuing with the case was in the public interest.

The high level discussions in January 2005, known as the `Shawcross procedure`, also involved Britann's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Home Secretary Charles Clarke and then-Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy.

Even though the Solicitor General emphasised no ministers were consulted on the later decision to drop the charges following new information from Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde in November, Democratic Unionist MP Nigel Dodds claimed Mr Blair needed to provided more answers.

The North Belfast representative, who had asked for clarification, said: "What exactly is the truth about what the Prime Minister knew about the abandonment of the Stormontgate case? It seems that whilst Mr Blair is saying one thing about his involvement in consultation before the case was dropped, his Government colleagues are saying something entirely different."

Mr Donaldson was arrested and charged after police investigating an alleged republican espionage plot raided Sinn Fein offices at the Northern Ireland Assembly in October 2002.

The operation brought down the coalition government and led to scores of prison officers being relocated amid security fears.

Since Mr Donaldson`s unmasking the British Government has been under pressure to disclose all it knew about his work as a mole.

But Mr O`Brien insisted only the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland and the Attorney General were involved in the later discussions over dropping the criminal case.

"So the Shawcross consultation took place earlier in the year," he said.

"It was a separate issue which arose in November and December which resulted in the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland taking a view after consultations with the attorney general that the case ought to be discontinued."

Yet Mr Dodds claimed that a full explanation had yet to be given.

"What precisely is the truth?" he asked.

"Was Mr Blair consulted as the Solicitor General said he was or was he not as he claims? Given the Prime Minister`s track record of making misleading statements on issues relating to Northern Ireland it is easy to doubt the sincerity of Mr Blair`s answers."

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